The Supreme Court refusing to hear a case

The power of the Supreme Court is a frequent topic of 45 mark questions (and one of my favourites!).

The SC gets around 8,000 cases put to it each year of which it only hears about 80. The cases it hears are decided by the ‘Rule of Four’ meaning four Justices have to agree – effectively meaning no one ideology can dominate what cases the Supreme Court gets to hear. This is one of the key restraints on the power of the SC – it cannot actually hear that many cases annually. However, some of the Court’s power can come from refusing to hear cases. By doing so, the Court essentially accepts the decision of the lower court and, given that the SC is the final word on a matter, it means that the case will not go any further. Essentially, sometimes in deciding not to hear a case the Court is still essentially making a ruling.

That is the case this week with Google Books  the Supreme Court have refused to hear a challenge to Google Books, essentially meaning Google have ‘won’ the case and have won their copyright battle. This is a useful example when discussing the power of the Court as most students will focus on the cases they do hear, whereas sometimes the ones they do not are just as important.